As eBooks are set to take a market share of 25.8% of all book sales worldwide, Red Points examines the harm of eBook piracy on the publishing industry, and whether the popularity of e-readers could be more damaging than lucrative, by examining the popularity of pirate libraries.
Charles Dickens famously wrote of book piracy that he failed to see a difference between “such pilfering as this, and picking a man's pocket in the street”. But piracy is now viewed by some authors as an inevitable part of the digitally-affected industry, with Neil Gaiman identifying the growing problem as merely modern-age book-lending. Award-winning Paul Coelho goes so far as to encourage piracy, offering via his website direct links to his own books, in pirated eBook version.
Unfortunately, less established authors may be the ones taking the hits as independently-published eBook purchases surge. Physical books have similarly enjoyed a recent increase in sales due to prices falling to compete with eBooks, but how can they ever hope to compete with free instant-download copies? As eBook publication becomes an increasing necessity, and eBook piracy increasingly prevalent, with pirates constantly evolving new ways to share copyrighted content, it’s time for publishers to take action.
Pirate libraries, or ‘shadow libraries’ are indexed, searchable platforms of illegally-shared eBooks and online journals. Created by academics, the libraries initially aimed to fill a gap in digital publishing, providing access for researchers with limited resources, but as titles are increasingly translated and downloads continue to soar, the reach of pirate libraries should become more than noteworthy to publishers. Indeed, one study showed that 68% of downloads were for eBooks not sold on the Kindle store, indicating that on-demand expectations will be filled by pirates if not by publishers. In addition to this, the statistic indicates that e-readers have driven book piracy, highlighting eBooks as an e-commerce sector of focus in the war against piracy.
In the digital age, what can publishers really do to combat new technologies such as this? From a legal perspective, although certain eBook pirates have been arrested, copyright law is grossly outdated in its ability to handle online piracy, as shown by the Authors Guild vs Google case. Some publishers have made respectable efforts such as the inclusion of watermarks on purchased eBooks, only to be trumped by pirate groups who complained that the move breached their privacy.
eBook piracy can cause harm to the publishing industry in a multitude of ways, but marketing is a sector facing a particular impact. Although Google and Bing have of late been taking efforts to tackle SEO rankings of piracy websites, search results for the purchase of books are often flooded with piracy websites that offer the titles for free. PlagiarismToday acknowledges the flaws of reporting sites on a case-by-case basis, and points out that what publishing companies can do is make efforts to increase their online presence in order to dominate google search results over piracy sites.
These techniques and the responses from pirates are indicative of the digital battle that publishers must enter into; an effort to ‘fight fire with fire’ by playing pirates at their own virtual game. However, pirates are already diversifying their mediums of distribution; apps like telegram are being used to pirate books and magazines, which will be unaffected by actions taken against pirate websites. In light of this it’s important for publishers to assess their online risk in order to take control of their copyrighted property. With hundreds of millions of e-reader devices in the world, the potential number of copyright breaches and thus potential loss by publishers is clearly something to be addressed.
The loss inflicted on publishers will ultimately affect the quality and type of output they produce. It’s probable that publishers will take fewer creative risks on novels or new writers. If the industry is to save itself and the calibre of its productions, then it will have to adapt to new forms of consumption, much like the music and TV/Film industries. However, all of these industries are still suffering at the hands of pirates, despite having invested extensively in new technologies and on-demand services. Many are concerned about the culture of piracy that has arisen online, as younger internet users are much more likely to pirate content than older users. If the publishing industry is to survive, it will no doubt be a case of both protecting their digital content and adapting to the on-demand needs of younger generations.